“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.” – John Green,
Work is a hard place to have hard conversations. Workplaces are focused on results and time-sensitive outcomes, and so there will always be stress flying around the place, even if not all the time. It is also tricky to have difficult communications with colleagues as these are the people you are contractually obliged to share a workplace with for the foreseeable future. The last thing you want to do is end up poisoning a relationship.
So, in the spirit of approaching awkward issues with people at work in a mindful and conscious way, here are a few tips…
1. Don’t Let It Fester
If there is a problem between you and another person… an unspoken one… don’t avoid tackling it. Similarly, if there is something irksome that you need to tell someone, don’t put it off. In the former case, the passive tension is only going to get worse. You might wish for the problem to go away, but that will blow up in your face sooner or later. Tackle the issue before it gets worse.
In the latter case, again, the longer information is withheld, the more damaging it is likely to be when you inevitably have to pass it on. In summary, difficult conversations are like ripping off plasters; better to rip it off and get it over with.
2. Plan the Conversation
If you are like me, you can get derailed in tough interactions easily. Go into the conversation knowing exactly what you need to say, exactly what your considered position is, and try b not to deviate from your chosen path too much. This should help you to keep the communication short, concise, and relatively painless.
3. The Other Shoes
Whatever the news that you have to deliver, or the altercation you might need to have might be, always consider what it is going to be like to be on the other side of it. This will help you to be sympathetic to the other party, and therefore to frame your approach in a way that is less likely to upset either side.
Conjecture, opinions, and vagueness are not your friends here. Try to stick to facts, and not to make any personal swipes not based on solid evidence.
Of course, it is a good idea to come into these conversations with an idea of how is best to solve it. It is also a good idea to make sure these ideas are said out loud. However, if you can work together with the other side to come up with a conclusion that you are both equally happy with, then so much the better. There is nothing wrong with debate and being on the other side of something to somebody else. The real gold in any working relationship is to work out how to compromise, and to be able to resolve issues together, despite differences of opinion.
6. Follow Ups
If you are aware that the news you have delivered may have been tough to take (or even if, on the front of it, the news was taken very well), always follow up. Check on how the person is doing, and if there is anything you can do to prop them up now that the dust of your interaction has settled. People often don’t know how to react to awkward news in the moment, and so may not come out of a rough conversation with a solution they are actually OK with. Indeed, this follow-up conversation might actually be a better time to solve the problem than the time of the initial communication.
By Chris Thomson
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